U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, speaks to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Feb. 4. EMILY HANEY / emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com
Photo: Emily Haney/emily.haney@ajc.com

Georgia congressman scolded for Confederate book displayed in office

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson said he was unaware of book, removed it

Several Georgia members of the American Federation of Government Employees were visiting the West Point Republican’s office on Monday when said they saw a copy of “Gen. Robert Edward Lee: Solider, Citizen, and Christian Patriot” protected under a glass enclosure in the lobby. 

The book, first published in 1897, was opened to a racist passage that said “the blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, societally, and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race,” and “… if he means well to the slave he must not create angry feelings in the master.”

James Miller, a Georgia-based Transportation Security Administration worker and AFGE member, said he also saw medals from the Confederate general on display. Ferguson’s office said there were no medals, but military challenge coins associated with units of the armed services were part of the display.

“As a black man and constituent, I can say that nothing makes you feel more unwelcome in your own member of Congress’ office than seeing such racist memorabilia,” said Miller, a legislative political coordinator with the union. 

AFGE later sent a press release calling on Ferguson to remove the items and publicly apologize. 

“It is beyond uncomfortable to be told to sit by such disdainful language and materials, and we don’t understand why in this day and age the Congressman has them in the first place,” said Shekina Givens, president of the union that represents TSA workers in Atlanta. 

AFGE said Miller reached out to Ferguson’s staff requesting the materials be removed. Miller later told CNN he received a call from Chief of Staff Bobby Saparow on Tuesday morning apologizing and confirming they were taken down.  

In a statement released Wednesday, Ferguson said he had been unaware of the book.

“The office was decorated by staff and the book in question was underneath a box of military challenge coins. I did not even know it was there,” Ferguson said. “When my staff learned about it, they removed it and apologized to the individual who was upset by it.”

Ferguson later told CNN he was "certainly as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be, and that's why it's no longer in the office."

A second-term House member, Ferguson is seen as an up-and-coming member of Georgia’s congressional delegation. The former West Point mayor was recently tapped as the House GOP’s No. 2 vote counter and appointed to the powerful Ways and Means Committee. 

He attracted similar negative attention last year when his office unknowingly tweeted a D-Day photo that depicted Nazi soldiers rather than American troops.

News of the book traveled fast to the Georgia Capitol, where state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, urged Ferguson to publicly apologize in a floor speech Wednesday morning. 

“I would like to encourage him to set the record straight and apologize to all of his constituents and the state of Georgia – and especially his African-American constituents,” Parent said. “He needs to apologize for having such a racist item displayed.” 

Staff writer Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.

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